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Los Altan of the Year Kelly Lam: Using art to connect, help students with stress

Modeled after Time Magazine’s annual honor, the Town Crier’s Los Altans of the Year, now in its 26th year, recognizes local residents who have spread goodwill through their good deeds, enhancing Los Altos’ reputation as a community.

Typically, the honors have gone to older recipients with a long, demonstrated record of volunteerism and impact. But 2020 was no typical year. It has forced us to see and do things differently.

We were struck by how many of our “heroes” were young people who really stepped up and made a difference. They did so despite dealing with their own challenges with remote education, cancellation of school sports and a host of other unprecedented obstacles.

Throughout the year, the Town Crier ran numerous stories of young people doing everything from delivering groceries to isolated seniors to counseling fellow students through personal crises. Regrettably, there are far more who deserve recognition than we have space for.

We ultimately selected five young recipients in three distinct categories: Angelina Lue for her COVID response; Riley Simonsen and Kelly Lam for their focus on mental health; and Kenan Moos and Kiyoshi Taylor for advocating for racial justice.

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When Kelly Lam began high school, she considered volunteer efforts an opportunity to fatten her resume with experiences that might impress the colleges she eventually applied to.

“But now, as I’ve done more volunteer work, and I’ve worked with children, I’ve been working to help my community,” Lam said. “And now I really care a lot more about these issues, and I really, really want to focus on making a difference.”

Kelly Lam
Courtesy of Kelly Lam
Kelly Lam uses her artistic talents on the Community Health Awareness Council’s Teen Advisory Council.

The 16-year-old Los Altos High School student is already advancing toward that goal through her work with the Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA) in Mountain View; Quarantutors, a Bay Area-based service that offers free tutoring to students around the world; and the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) of Mountain View.

Lam, an artist specializing in 2D art including drawing and painting, served as a camp aide at CSMA during her school’s winter break early this year and intended to continue the work during the spring and summer months before lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic prevented in-person instruction. She maintained high hopes for the summer, but the pandemic lingered and continued to foil her plans.

By late summer, Lam said, she was sitting around, “doing nothing all day,” when she decided to seek out other volunteering opportunities. She landed on Quarantutors, which connected her with a fifth-grade student in India. Now Lam and the boy convene regularly over Zoom so she can help him with his classes. She specializes in math instruction, particularly algebra.

‘Introverted extrovert’

Lam joined the CHAC Teen Advisory Council (TAC) a few months ago. She’s part of a group of young people developing a buddy program to teach elementary school students about self-care. And she’s using her artistic skills to create posters advertising the opportunity.

“A lot of people are missing out on the human connections right now because of the limited contact we have with other people,” she said. “That’s also kind of part of the reason we started TAC Mates, our buddy program, because children, people in general, we’re all lacking that connection with others, no matter your age, because of coronavirus.”

Amrita Bassi, lead CHAC therapist and co-facilitator of TAC, described Lam as an “introvert” who has evolved into an “introverted extrovert” through her involvement with CHAC. Bassi said Lam readily volunteered to take on the buddy program poster project.

“Her creativity is insane,” Bassi said. “I mean, she told us in the beginning. She was very upfront about her creative side and her being an artist, but it wasn’t until recently that we realized what she meant by that.”

Lam said she’s considering studying psychology in college so she can eventually apply what she’s learned through CHAC – and will learn at university – in a professional setting.

“I just want people to know if you’re feeling anxious or if you’re feeling stress, then that’s normal, it’s fine,” she said. “You’re not broken or anything. I want people to kind of feel validated.”

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